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Council tax freeze; markets steady; Morrisons divi; Shell; Savills

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5pm: Council tax freeze

All 32 local authorities across Scotland have chosen to freeze council tax following a Scottish Government commitment to compensate those who do so.

As part of the 2021-22 Scottish Budget, Finance Secretary Kate Forbes allocated £90 million – the equivalent of around a 3% council tax increase – on top of the local government settlement to compensate councils who choose to freeze their council tax.

4.30pm: Market close

The FTSE 100 closed 11.36 points higher at 6,736.96 amid a rally in European equities.

Among the fallers, Wm Morrison closed 1.8% lower as £290 million in Covid-19-related costs offset strong sales figures (see below).

AstraZeneca closed down 2.5% after Danish health authorities suspended the use of its Covid-19 vaccine as a precaution because some patients developed blood clots after receiving the jab. Norway also put the vaccine on hold. The UK and EU insisted the vaccine was safe.

Stocks in New York were sharply higher after Congress passed US President Joe Biden’s $1.9trn financial aid package and as jobs market improved.

The DJIA was up 0.9%, the S&P 500 index up 1.2% and the Nasdaq Composite up 2.1%.

US initial jobless claims decreased by 42,000 last week to 712,000 claims on the prior week’s 754,000, both beating expectations and coming in at the lowest since November.

3pm: EU import checks delayed

Business groups have expressed relief at a decision to suspend checks on EU goods coming into Britain for six months to give businesses more time to prepare for the changes to regulations.

Full story here

9am: London opens slightly higher

Rolls-Royce reported a bigger than expected loss but its shares 3.6% in early trade as analysts noted its outlook on a resumption of flights.

Wm Morrison (see below) fell 1.3% after it unveiled full-year results weighed down by additional costs.

The FTSE 100 was trading 10.5 points higher at 6,736.10.

7am: Rolls-Royce plunges

Aero engine maker Rolls-Royce plunged to a worse than expected £4 billion loss in 2020 as the pandemic stopped airlines flying.

Full story here

John Lewis

Department store and supermarket group John Lewis Partnership has confirmed that it will be permanently closing some stores.

“Hard as it is, there is no getting away from the fact that some areas can no longer profitably sustain a John Lewis store,” said chairman Sharon White.

Full story here

Morrisons profits fall

Morrisons-paper-bags

Supermarket group Morrisons said annual profit halved as a jump in sales was more than offset by the huge extra costs of dealing with the Covid-19 crisis. 

However, it also declared a special dividend of 4p alongside a proposed final payout of 5.11p.

The group said profit before tax and exceptional items came in 50.7% lower at £201m in the year to 31 January, including £290m of costs.

Group like-for-like sales ex-fuel/ex-VAT rose 8.6%, with final quarter like-for-like sales up 9.0%.

“We expect 2021/22 profit before tax and exceptionals including rates paid to be higher than the £431m profit achieved in 2020/21 excluding the £230m waived (business) rates relief,” the company said.

Savills ‘confident’

Property agent Savills reported a fall in annual statutory profit before tax to £83.2m (2019: 115.6m)

It is proposing a final ordinary dividend of 17p reflecting the resilience of the less transactional business performance.

Mark Ridley, group chief executive, said: “Savills delivered a robust performance in 2020 reflecting the strength and resilience of our global, diversified business.

“We continued to grow our less transactional service lines and increase our market share, outperforming in many of our transactional markets despite the challenging conditions.

“We remain confident in the long term attraction of real estate as an asset class and although macro-economic uncertainty resulting from COVID-19 clearly remains, we see enhanced investor demand for income and improvements in leasing activity as occupiers increasingly seek to address their requirements.

“We have made a good start to 2021 and see opportunities for business development emerging during the course of the year.”

Shell’s new chairman

Royal Dutch Shell has announced Glasgow-born former BHP CEO Andrew Mackenzie as its next chairman to succeed Charles Holliday who will step down on 18 May after serving six years in the role.

Mr Mackenzie, who left BHP Group last year after serving as CEO of the mining group from 2013 to 2019, joined Shell’s board in October last year.

Markets

The FTSE 100 was expected to follow global equity markets higher after the US sealed its $1.9 trillion stimulus plan.

CFD firm IG Markets forecast a 24 point rise in the blue chip index which closed 4.74 points lower at 6,725.6.

Stocks in New York rallied with the Dow Jones 1.46% higher and reaching yet another new record close. The S&P 500 added 0.6% while the Nasdaq dipped marginally.

The positive sentiment carried over to Asia, where Japan’s Nikkei moved 0.6% higher, the Hang Seng climbed 1.17% and the Shanghai Composite marked a 1.7% gain.



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